LANGLEY PARK, Md. — Each weekday morning, contractors in need of day laborers to paint, mulch or hammer pull their trucks into a small strip mall here and begin negotiating with job seekers. It takes just a few minutes for the price of human labor to decline — often below the state’s minimum wage — as men desperate for work underbid each other.
On a recent weekday, eight trucks pulled in over a two-hour period and separately negotiated with about 10 workers at a time. The bidding started at $12 an hour. But because there were more laborers than employers, the price frequently fell to as little as $5 per hour, significantly lower than the state’s mandated $8.75 minimum hourly wage and Prince George’s County’s minimum wage of $10.75 an hour. Although several workers cut deals at that low rate, Jose, a construction worker who moved to the U.S. from Guatemala 21 years ago, held out for higher pay — a decision that cost him a job at the time.
Even though Jose sometimes works for less than the $16 an hour he thinks he should be earning, he won’t bid himself down as low as the other workers. Day laborers make so little, he said, that they “have to work sometimes day and sometimes day and nights.” (Capital News Service is withholding the last names of day workers to protect them from possible retaliatory actions from employers.)